The Bay Area Jewish website Jweekly.com caught up with
Jacob Zelonky, the 12-year-old Memphian who has been acting, singing and dancing in the touring production of the Tony-winning musical "Billy Elliot." (Click here
to read The Commercial Appeal's profile of Jacob from last September.) Jacob plays Michael, supportive friend of the title character, a young boy from working-class northern England who dreams of being a dancer. He alternates the role with another young actor, but has distinguished himself among the critics:
Though most of the attention falls on the Billy role, Jacob has received
some compelling reviews himself, such as "Jacob Zelonky is thoroughly
amusing as Billy's offbeat and scrappy pal" in one publication, and
"sure to be an audience favorite is Jacob Zelonky" in another.
Already a veteran of community and professional theater, Jacob had to prepare extensively for his first big tour:
"They got me a tap coach in Memphis," Jacob says. "She coached me
five days a week. I had to learn 13 years worth of tap dancing in a few
He also had to master the tricky accent common to northern England's
coal country. The show's producers demanded that the actors sound like
authentic Durham County denizens.
"It took a while to learn," Jacob says. "We had dialect coaches who
sat with us and went through every line, and taught us how to say
And finally, Jacob had to learn a little something about donning
women's clothing. "It was little complicated at first," he laughs. "I
didn't know if I should step into the dress or put it over my head."
While "Billy Elliot" continues to tour, Jacob is preparing for his bar mitzvah in November. For his required service project, he has been visiting Jewish assisted-living facilities and singing songs for the residents. He won't be in Memphis for the big day, but his family and friends will make the trip to St. Louis to hear him chant Torah.